Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Impact of Popularity Indications on Readers' Selective Exposure to Online News

Academic journal article Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media

Impact of Popularity Indications on Readers' Selective Exposure to Online News

Article excerpt

The Internet has greatly contributed to the so-called information tide (Graber, 1984) that news consumers face. Using the World Wide Web to access news has become commonplace, with nearly two thirds of the people who "get news" using online sources at least some of the time (Fallows, 2004). Thus, communication scholars need to address new phenomena in news consumption that are unique to information retrieval from the World Wide Web. Initial explorations into how news consumers perceive--print and online news have revealed that the audience applies largely parallel criteria to both outlets (Sundar, 1999). However, with regard to issue perceptions and learning from news, differences between print and online news did emerge. For example, Althaus and Tewksbury (2002) demonstrated reduced agenda-setting effects for online news readers compared to readers of the print news version. Furthermore, Eveland and Dunwoody (2002) showed that reading Web news produces smaller learning effects than print news. The authors of both studies attributed these differences to increased selectivity in online news consumption. Hence, the well-established phenomenon of selectivity in media consumption (Klapper, 1960) also seems relevant for online media. This highlights the importance of determining which factors influence selective exposure to online news.

Interestingly, online news platforms offer their users filtering techniques to access the abundant information selectively. Two broad classes of selection devices can be differentiated (Cosley, Lam, Albert, Konstan, & Riedl, 2003): content-based, in which the reader may enter keywords or section preferences to create customized newspaper versions (as in many so-called Daily Me projects in the 1990s); and collaborative filtering, in which previous readers' opinions on content are employed (see Lasica, 2002a, 2000b). The latter approach can be seen in various popular online portals from which many people retrieve news (e.g., Yahoo! News and Google News) and also in online versions of established news media (e.g., USAToday.com and CNN.com). Because news consumption is often considered important for surveying and interpreting the social environment (Lippmann, 1922; McCombs & Shaw, 1972; Neuman, Just, & Crigler, 1992; Noelle-Neumann, 1974, 1977), it is intriguing that online news platforms now incorporate collaborative filtering cues, such as most e-mailed, number of page views, and average (avg.) rating associated with specific articles. The social functions of news may be even more salient when cues of collaborative filtering are present and indicate what other news readers appreciate and consume.

It is plausible that user-based recommendations of news have strong impacts on selective exposure to news. Various possible impacts of this kind are investigated in this study. We will review differences of print and online news that are relevant in this context, address how online news platforms offer new features to "tame the information tide" (Graber, 1984), and state research questions for the subsequent empirical investigation.

News Selections in Traditional Versus Online News Presentations

News editors apply a relatively standardized set of criteria when selecting information for publication or broadcast in news outlets (e.g., Galtung & Ruge, 1965; Gans, 1979; White, 1950) and, furthermore, emphasize certain news reports by prominent presentation, for example, on the front page, with illustration, or as the first item in a newscast. For traditional news platforms, such formal indicators of newsworthiness have been demonstrated to guide information selections of news consumers (e.g., Garcia & Stark, 1991; Graber, 1984; McCombs & Mauro, 1977; Wolf & Grotta, 1985; Zillmann, Knobloch, & Yu, 2001) and also the level of importance attached to a reported issue (e.g., Kiosis, 2004; Wanta, 1988). Recently, though, more and more news consumers turn to the World Wide Web to retrieve information (e. …

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